Portrait of a “Mai” (King) of Bornu in the 17th century

Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s
Kanem-Bornu court in the 1700s

We can retain without great risk of anachronism the detailed description that a Frenchman – probably a surgeon by the name of Girard held in slavery for a few years in Tripoli – gives in 1685 of the sovereign according to the testimonies he collected in this city.

It is in this case the grandson and fourth successor of Idris Alooma, designated under the name of “Mahi-Hagi-Hali”, that is Mai (Hajj) Ali b. Umar b. Idris, who had reigned, according to D. Lange, from 1639 to 1677.

Idris Alooma

“Those who have seen this prince agree that he is nice looking well-built, and of rich stature, but he is black : his ordinary clothes are a robe of white or blue linen, with long sleeves, very fine and untied : he wears the white turban like the Turks, and his face is always more than half covered, because the Bornu people are ashamed (take shame) to show their mouths, and which covers their face from the tip of the nose to the bottom of the chin.”

Chronology of the Bornu Kings from 1512 to 1671. – Extract from manuscript number 12220 (Nouvelles acquisitions. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) – Reproduced by le Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de Paris, 1849

It is good to note that, two centuries later, the European travelers who visited Bornu described the robe of the king in identical terms. Such permanence clearly indicates that this is not an occasional outfit, but one of the ritual and traditional insignia of power.

Les Africains, vol. 3, Editions J.A., 1977, p. 53. Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

3 thoughts on “Portrait of a “Mai” (King) of Bornu in the 17th century

Leave a Reply to Dr. Y. Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s